Friday, 26 November 2010

What can we learn about digital from JFK?

In 1960 the first Presidential debates were held.

Richard Nixon, incumbent Vice-President, campaigned until a few hours beforehand, hadn't fully recovered from an illness and refused make-up (which he thought was effeminate).

Among voters who heard the debate on the radio Nixon's experience trumped Kennedy's youthfulness. But the larger audience who watched on TV thought that Kennedy had won. Kennedy subsequently pulled ahead in the polls and went on to win the election by a nose.

Nixon essentially lost the election because he didn't put on make-up. Or more broadly his advisers didn't understand that TV debates would be different from traditional town halls or the radio. The technology had changed, but their strategy hadn't.

What mistakes are being made in communications today which will look as basic as refusing make-up in 1960?

My starter would be mistaking digital for just another way of broadcasting your message to your audience. Yes it is valuable for broadcasting to large numbers of people - but that's a very narrow way to see it. Facebook's genius is that it realises that a lot of the time, most of us prefer spend time consuming relevant content produced by our amateur friends than from professional entertainers.


Obama London said...

Sorry to be annoying, but... there's a little more the Kennedy Nixon debate story than the commonly reported distinction between radio listener reactions versus TV viewers. In fact, the demographic breakdown of the two groups leaned in the direction of the favoured candidate. I.e., older and more conservative people tended to listed to the debate on the radio because they didn't have a TV. Whereas, younger people were more likely both to have TVs and to vote for Kennedy.

Conveniently, there's a campaign lesson in this too - considering the media where your audience is likely to be. In the modern analogy, if people who are likely to vote for you are not digital natives, don't use a bleeding edge social media tool like Foursquare.

Peter said...

Yes - I was taught about this at University, but decided to fact check it for myself before blogging on it (during the 2008 Presidential election). I got nervous that radio listerners might be older, and rural and thus more Republican anyway. Guess what - it seems they probably were